The coronavirus pandemic has upended every aspect of our society, and legal proceedings are no exception. In Indiana, court operations during the state of emergency have varied by jurisdiction and court, with the Indiana Supreme Court issuing general orders but also granting specific authority and permissions to courts upon request. While this has allowed local courts to meet the needs of their communities while responding appropriately to their area’s level of risk, it has also created Indiana litigation changes that vary from one court to another, which can be confusing for litigants.
The Coronavirus Pandemic and Indiana Litigation Changes
In March 2020, Indiana Governor Eric J. Holcomb declared a public health emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic and issued stay at home orders for the state. Over the months since, the state of emergency and related orders have been extended several times.
While judicial facilities and activities have generally been exempt from these orders as essential, the Indiana Supreme Court, under the authority granted by Administrative Rule 17, has allowed lower courts to request permission to alter the ways they serve the public while protecting the health and well-being of all. To further advance this cause, the state’s supreme court also issued and extended orders permitting courts to hold remote, or virtual, hearings and other proceedings.
In April, the Indiana Supreme Court ordered the lower courts of the state to submit for approval plans for resuming court operations while maintaining safety as the pandemic continues. Hopefully, the orders of the governor and the Indiana Supreme Court have helped to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. However, the various directives and allowances have also created a confusing patchwork of judicial processes and procedures from county to county and even by city.
If you are dealing with Indiana litigation during COVID, a Hamilton County attorney from Camden & Meridew, P.C. can help you navigate the Indiana litigation changes that are likely to impact your case in Indianapolis and neighboring counties.
Indiana Court Operations during the State of Emergency
The supreme court’s authorization of Indiana virtual hearings and expanded remote proceedings has been an important part of the pandemic response of the courts. On May 13, 2020, the state’s high court issued a modification of Administrative Rule 14 authorizing the following:
- Audiovisual communications for court proceedings and jury selection;
- Telephonic communication in some circumstances;
- Remote/virtual trials for civil cases with a jury;
- Remote administration of oaths and testimony (with some restrictions in criminal cases);
- Remote witnessing of wills; and
- Livestream of proceedings to satisfy public access requirements.
Court proceedings are stressful for the parties involved under normal circumstances. Indiana virtual hearings and proceedings present a new set of issues and potential problems. Parties involved in these cases must be aware of their responsibilities and the potential pitfalls of remote proceedings to be properly prepared.
What Clients Should Know in Advance of Indiana Virtual Hearings
In anticipation of the potential for disorder in Indiana virtual hearings, the Indiana Supreme Court issued guidance for attending remote court proceedings. First, it is noted that attendees should dress appropriately for a court proceeding, as they would if attending in person. Next, attendees are responsible for choosing a quiet, private setting with good lighting and acoustics.
Distractions must be minimized as much as possible in Indiana virtual hearings and other proceedings, and it is the responsibility of each attendee to ensure that others around them, including children and animals, will not interrupt or distract from the proceedings.
Before an Indiana virtual hearing or proceeding, the attendee should test and confirm that the application or software being used for the video conference is working. Other recommended preparations for a virtual hearing include joining early to allow time for troubleshooting or updates, having a pen and paper ready to take notes, and keeping the court’s phone number nearby in case connection is lost and the attendee needs to inform the court of the problem. If the attendee has special needs that must be addressed or provided for during the proceedings, the court should be notified in advance.
During the proceedings, attendees should mute their microphones when they are not speaking to minimize interruptions and background noise. It is advised that attendees speak slowly and clearly and observe the same general rules of etiquette that would be required in the courtroom, including not eating, smoking or vaping, using a cell phone, texting, or moving around excessively. If attendees need to leave the area of the video monitor, a request for a recess should be made.
Following this guidance and the advice of a qualified attorney who is up-to-date on the Indiana litigation changes in your jurisdiction are the best ways to ensure Indiana virtual hearings or other court proceedings go smoothly.
County Court Operations during the State of Emergency
During the pandemic, many county and local courts petitioned the Indiana Supreme Court for specific permissions and authorization of modified court operations during the state of emergency. For example, in Marion and Hamilton counties, the Indiana Supreme Court issued orders that allowing the tolling of laws requiring speedy trials, authorizing continuation of non-essential hearings, and permitting judges to exercise jurisdiction over cases in other area courts.
Other provisions of the orders issued by the supreme court for Marion and Hamilton counties, and for each county in Indiana, differed based on the county’s requests and circumstances. In some cases, including the Fishers City Court and Carmel City Court in Hamilton County, local courts within the state’s counties petitioned the supreme court for certain allowances as well.
On April 24, 2020, the Indiana Supreme Court ordered the state’s trial courts to submit for the high court’s approval plans for resuming operations as the pandemic runs its course. In Hamilton County, for example, a phased plan was submitted and approved. The Hamilton County transition plan details the stages in which court operations will resume and the steps that will be taken to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The plan does not include specific dates but is intended to be implemented as the situation allows each phase to be introduced.
A Hamilton County Attorney Who Understands the Indiana Litigation Changes
Indiana litigation during COVID is subject to many variations in process and procedure, and confusion and delays are unlikely to end when the height of the pandemic does. However, missed hearings or breaches of court procedure still carry significant consequences for litigants. If you are facing litigation, you need an experienced attorney who knows the law and can also successfully navigate court operations during the state of emergency. You can trust that a Hamilton County attorney from Camden & Meridew, P.C. will be diligent in managing your case while taking any relevant Indiana litigation changes into account. Contact the firm today by calling 317-770-0000 or completing this online contact form.